When the weather starts to get colder and daylight gets shorter, you know fall is approaching. For beekeepers, there are certain tasks that must be done in fall in order to prepare their hives for winter.
Why Fall Management is Important
Fall management is important for your hives because you want to make sure that your bees can survive the winter and then build up quickly in the spring. You want your colonies to stay healthy, well fed, and disease free.
While the bees do most of the hard work to prepare for fall and winter, there are a few things that the beekeeper can do to help them out. See the Fall Beekeeping Checklist below for things you should be doing to get your bees ready for winter, or click below for your free printable fall beekeeping checklist.
Fall Beekeeping Checklist
- Install Mouse Guard
- Look for the Queen
- Check Varroa Levels
- Adjust Colony Size
- Check Honey Reserves
- Insulate Your Beehive
- Provide a Windbreak
Protect the Hive Entrance
Mice, and other rodents will look for shelter during the cold months. That means that a beehive is the perfect place for them to inhabit. It’s warm, dry, and contains food. If a mouse gets into your hive, it can cause a lot of damage. They’ll chew up the frames and comb to nest in the hive.
Luckily this can all be prevented by installing an entrance reducer or mouse guard to the front of your hive. They are inexpensive and easy to install. You can even make your own using wire mesh.
Look for the Queen
Inspecting your hive in early fall is important, because it is the last chance you have to improve weak colonies before winter hits. As with all of your other hive inspections, when you inspect your bees, you are looking to see that a queen is present.
When checking for the queen make sure that there are both eggs and larvae in the hive. If you see both, there is a queen present. If there is no queen in the hive, you must either requeen, or combine colonies.
If you requeen your hive, do it in the early fall, as that will give the colony time to adapt to their new queen. If the colony is weak, and contains less than 5 frames of bees, you should consider combining the colony with a stronger one.
Check Varroa Levels
A colony with a high level of varroa mites is unlikely to survive the winter. That’s why it’s important to check for varroa in the early fall, so you have time to administer treatment, if needed.
Adjust Colony Size
The bee colony should naturally get smaller as it gets closer to winter. The average colony should have about 30,000 bees in the fall. A colony that is much larger than that can have problems because they would eat through the food stores too quickly. If you find that your colony is too large, there are things you can do to reduce it’s size.
A simple method is to feed the bees heavy syrup, daily. This will cause the bees to store the syrup in the brood nest, so there won’t be space for the queen to lay more eggs. You can also restrict the queen to the lowest brood nest for some time, so she isn’t able to lay eggs. Doing so will reduce the size of the colony.
On the other hand, a colony that is too small will have problems generating enough warmth during the winter. In that case, you can take steps to raise the population. To increase the colony size, try placing some empty drawn frames near the brood nest and giving small doses of supplemental pollen.
Check Honey Reserves
In the fall, you need to check on the colony’s honey reserves to ensure that they will have enough food to last them through the winter. Most beekeepers will check for this at the end of October.
Bees living in cold climates will need roughly 60 lbs of honey to survive winter, while bees in warmer climates can make do with 40 lbs. If you find that your hive is low on honey, you can feed them.
Disease free surplus honey from another hive in your apiary is best, but if you don’t have that, they can be fed sugar syrup, fondant, candy boards, and even granulated sugar. To add nutrition, a supplement such as Honey B Healthy can also be added.
Insulate Your Beehive
You may or may not have to insulate your hive, depending on the climate in your area. However, if the temperature gets below freezing, it is recommended to add some insulation.
You can wrap your hive with black tar paper, or use an overwintering beehive cover. Just make sure that the ventilation holes and entrance are not obstructed. Ventilation is very important in the winter, as you want to avoid condensation build up in the hive.
For more information on insulating beehives, see: Insulating Beehives for Winter
Provide a Windbreak and Secure Covers
If you live in an area that gets alot of wind in the fall and winter, you may want to provide a windbreak for your hives to prevent them from being blown over. Shrubbery or a temporary fence can help to block strong winds. The windbreak should be 1 foot taller than the hive and placed 4-6 feet away.
For particularly strong winds and storms, beekeepers will also tie their hives down using ratchet straps or bungee cords to prevent the hive from tipping over. Another benefit of tying down your hive is that it also keeps animals from getting into the hive.
Fall management for beekeepers is important because it gives the bees the best chance of surviving winter. Proper fall management also helps to ensure that your colony will build up quickly in the spring. By following the above Fall Beekeeping Checklist, you are keeping your bees healthy and protected.